Mac noob not liking the Dock
July 26, 2009 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Long time Windows user just got a 13" MacBook. I'm not liking the Dock that much. Can I modify it or replace it with something else? What alternatives can I consider?

I know to keep an open mind when you are trying something new and used to something else (the Windows taskbar and Windows Key + R in this case), but after a day of using my new MacBook I don't think I am going to like the Dock. For one, it seems like it's very pretty but a waste of space (even after I made it a little smaller). A 13" Macbook already has little enough screen space. Perhaps if I had some gigantoid monitor I wouldn't mind as much. Also I have trouble assessing what I have open when I glance at it. It feels weird to have launch icons mixed with things I have open. On Windows I lanch most apps by hitting Win+R with just a few launch icons on the desktop. So far I've been trying to use Spotlight the same way. It would probably help if the icons in the Dock had some labels. The criticisms listed here pretty much sum up the other things I have been noticing.

I almost always want function over form when I am computing. Fortunately I am not replacing my Windows desktop - I just got the MacBook to replace my old PC laptop which I used part-time. I would like to become a lot more efficient using a Mac and simply enjoy using it though.
posted by fx3000 to Computers & Internet (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
1. Save screen real estate by having the Dock hide itself (this is under the [apple] menu --> Dock --> Turn hiding on).

2. Launch most applications with Quicksilver -- two keys to invoke, one or two more to launch what you need from the adaptive index. I rarely use the Dock.
posted by grobstein at 6:17 PM on July 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

(I do use the Dock -- occasionally it is nice to be able to launch some common apps without keyboard input.)
posted by grobstein at 6:18 PM on July 26, 2009

(As to the labels, I think you're doing it wrong if you use the Dock to launch documents you're working on -- just put a handful of common apps on, and you'll memorize their look and not need labels.)
posted by grobstein at 6:20 PM on July 26, 2009

(About Quicksilver.)
posted by grobstein at 6:27 PM on July 26, 2009

fx3000, you can remove application icons from the dock by dragging them off, and they will disappear in a little animated puff. (This won't work for running apps, and you can't remove the Finder on the far left or the trash can on the far right.)
posted by cgc373 at 6:28 PM on July 26, 2009

Couple of tips:

1. Clean up the dock to just have the items/apps you use the most. You can drag unneeded apps off into a puff of smoke. Add apps/folders by dragging them onto the dock.

2. Add a folder(s) to the doc to any frequently used file locations. You can get a quick look/access into the contents without having to navigate there.

3. Move the dock to the right side of the screen so you gain the more valuable real estate at the bottom.

With some experimentation, I think you'll get a dock process that will be great for you. It really is a good thing once you get into it.
posted by qwip at 6:31 PM on July 26, 2009

Throwing in my two cents, I faaaaar prefer Spark over Quicksilver for launching programs with the keyboard. You might, too. It's just friendlier.
posted by barnacles at 6:31 PM on July 26, 2009

I pin the dock to the right side, hide it, and remove all apps but the Finder and Trash. I CMD-Tab to switch open applications. I use Quicksilver to launch applications. All is good.
posted by reflecked at 6:33 PM on July 26, 2009

The Dock is a lot less irritating if you turn off the fancy glass effects. Makes it a lot easier to see which apps are running and which aren't.
posted by xil at 6:34 PM on July 26, 2009

If you insist on keeping the Dock on the bottom, you can switch it to the 2D view your normally get on the side (which has more clear indicators for which applications are running) with this command:

defaults write no-glass -boolean YES

Followed by killing the Dock process.
posted by floam at 6:35 PM on July 26, 2009

Hide the dock. Launch apps using spotlight (command-spacebar, and then start typing the name of the app.... eg "command-spacebar t e [enter]" on my system will run terminal).
posted by pompomtom at 6:41 PM on July 26, 2009

One thing that radically improves functionality of the dock, for me at least, is to disable the 3D goofiness. Instructions here. There's also a dashboard widget that'll let you turn it on and off at will. Turn off the 3D and then give it another day to explore.

Other than that, you're right: the modern Dock is not an especially wonderful piece of UI. But, its purpose is not the same as the Windows taskbar. The paradigm is different.

On Windows, the taskbar is a way of managing the clutter of a zillion windows, with each window being a first-class citizen--you close all the windows of a program, and the program closes. On Windows, the window is the program to a certain extent.

On OSX, the idea is that your applications hang out down at the dock. If they're running, they're highlighted. If they're not running, they're available for running. You absolutely need this sort of functionality, because windows don't represent apps on OSX. The application owns windows, but you can close them all out with the program still running. This means that without some sort of a signifier, the only way to find still-running-but-invisible programs is to alt-tab through all of your running programs.

Also, as people have said above, Quicksilver is the way to go. Supposedly 10.5's Spotlight obviates it. But, I've never felt that to be the case... Spotlight indexes entirely too much stuff.
posted by Netzapper at 6:42 PM on July 26, 2009

Oh, and auto-hide. You've gotta turn on auto-hide.
posted by Netzapper at 6:42 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to auto-hide, tweak the magnification settings so the icons magnify to an easily viewable size for you.
posted by The Deej at 6:48 PM on July 26, 2009

For basic application and document opening purposes, you don't need Quicksilver: The built-in Spotlight serves the same purpose.

Quicksilver is still better in some ways, particularly if you're interested in turning it into an all-powerful shell-without-a-shell keyboard-based control center. And it does a better job of guessing and autocompleting your input. But you can also cross that bridge when you come to it; as a first-time Mac user, it might be better to start with what's already bundled with your computer and then only augment once you find them wanting.
posted by ardgedee at 6:48 PM on July 26, 2009

Don't overlook Spotlight as an application launcher. Just type and start typing the application name until the one you want is highlighted (usually just a few letters does it), and hit . Spotlight is built in, so there's nothing to add or to eat any resources.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 7:02 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find the third-party launcher tips a bit baffling. Same for launching via Spotlight. How much time do they really save you? Or is it about preventing CTS?

On my MacBook, my Dock is more or less down to Finder, browsers, mail clients, Terminal, and Fusion. Auto-hidden, two-dee, pinned to the left. Also on the Dock, on the far right side next to the Trash, are two folders: Applications, and a nested folder named " apps" (leading space) in which go all third-party apps sorted by category. That's a leftover habit from Mac OS 9 and earlier, actually, but it keeps things sorted.

Those folders within the Dock are treated as stacks in Leopard, but I find that in list view, they work more or less as hierarchal menus similar to Windows' Start Menu. I do waste a few seconds mousing around to select the desired app from the stack menu, but in the overall scheme of things I'm less efficient by maybe a thousandth of a percent.

I think you'd get used to the Dock in the same way the Start Menu becomes force of habit.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:04 PM on July 26, 2009

Top of head...

Set to auto-hide, definitely. I'd forgotten that was even an option.

And use command-tab to switch programs. Quicksilver is very slick (ha!) but might be overkill for you; get the most out of the built-in method first.

Throw everything out of the dock you don't actually use: you can always go find it the "long" way in /Applications later anyway. Leave only apps you actually use.

Put folders in the dock containing things you want access to, such as groups of program aliases. You can, of course, have multi aliases to the same thing in different places. Do this with folders of documents too.

Consider Apple Menu > Recent to run the common things, or even set them to always run on startup, because....

You can stop quitting programs "to save memory" for others, if you're doing that. There's very little benefit in OS X, and little difference between "running but idle" (memory is swapped out to disk when needed) and "not running" anyway. (My XP machine will grind to a halt with 10 apps open; a Mac with 40 open apps, near-identical processor and the same amount of RAM is fine.)
posted by rokusan at 7:06 PM on July 26, 2009

I pin my dock to the right side, make it pretty small, turn on auto-hide, and turn off magnification. This is a good start.

There are all kinds of replacement docks you can use. Go browse around the forums at MacThemes to find some. I use one called "HUD Dock" that gets rid of the annoying white border on the 2D dock and makes it jive better with the HUD sensibilities in recent versions of OS X.

You're already on the right track by using Spotlight as an app launcher. I do this as well, and I absolutely can't stand Quicksilver or LaunchBar. However, one thing you may be missing is trying to use the dock to switch between apps. A better option is Cmd-Tab (this is akin to the classic Windows app switcher), but you might also be missing out on Exposé, hands-down my favorite OS X feature. You can invoke it by hitting a function key, or if you have one of the cool new MacBooks with the multi-touch trackpads, swiping four fingers down on the trackpad. It's an absolutely brilliant way to get an idea of what's currently open and switching among applications and documents.
posted by joshrholloway at 7:07 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer: The Dock is a nasty bit of UI, because it tries to do too much -- it's a launcher, a running-applications manager, a status notifier, a quick-access file holder, a disk ejector, and a trashcan among other things. It does none of them well, and some of them contradict each other (eg you always want to be able to see status notifications, but you don't need to see available apps all the time).

You can replace virtually everything it does with something else, apart from the notifications. Apps that have badges -- eg Mail's unread counts -- generally don't offer any other way to see their status, apart from Growl hacks. That said, you can do a lot of what it does better with DragThing, and keep the Dock as small as you feel you need to see it.

Also, you can fix the problem of the centered Dock mentioned in the Wikipedia article. You can pin the dock to either end by typing:
defaults write pinning
into terminal followed by either "start" "middle" or "end". Hit return, then type killall Dock and hit return. (You used to be able to hide it under the menubar as well, but the buggers took that out in Leopard.)

(BTW: Spotlight is now a pretty decent replacement for windows-R. Unlike in 10.4, it will show applications first. Give it a keyboard shortcut, type the first few letters, press down-arrow and hit return. *Way* less prone to the mysterious hangs that Quicksilver has.
posted by fightorflight at 7:11 PM on July 26, 2009

Oh, and if you're using a mouse (not a trackpad) set Expose's "All Windows" function to the center mouse button (clicking the scroll wheel).

That's become my favorite app-switching method lately.
posted by rokusan at 7:14 PM on July 26, 2009

I tend to ignore the dock. I use it occasionally for app launching, but that's it. I have it set on autohide on the right side of the screen (widescreen means that the left-right real estate is at less of a premium). I use spotlight for most of my app launching and file-finding needs. I think the default keystroke is control-space.

You might really like spaces once you get to know it. I couldn't live without it on my macbook. I have one that is dedicated web browser, a different one for chat things (adium etc), and two more that get used as needed (video, file mungery, itunes). I set it up so that I can switch between them with option-arrow keys. It makes it easy for me to access the things I use the most at a simple keystroke. Spaces. It's good.
posted by that girl at 7:31 PM on July 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions so far. Spotlight has been very helpful although I will give Quicksilver a look in a little bit. I will also try autohide, putting the dock on the right and a bunch of the other tips. I was getting down on things because of the Dock but I'm getting excited again now. I don't think I am going to be using the Dock much. I wonder if Apple realizes what a crappy UI component that is.

Jubal Kessler: I try to use keyboard shortcuts and keywords/commands wherever possible. I really could not live without them. I am not a big fan of laptop track pads and in my early days of computing/using a mouse I was having some CTS problems. When I switched to as many shortcuts/commands as possible, not only did it eliminate CTS completely, but it made me more a lot efficient.

rokusan: For when I am moving the cursor around I'm just using the trackpad for now, but I'm already thinking of a Bluetooth mouse.
posted by fx3000 at 8:02 PM on July 26, 2009

Not everyone hates the Dock. I love it. It does everything I need and nothing else, and badges are amazingly useful. I do put it on the left though--just makes sense with widescreen.

Stacks are a super time saver for me, especially for Application folder. The minimal distinction between running and not running apps is on purpose: most background apps don't eat memory and eventually, there will be no user-visible difference between an app "running in the background" and one just not being used at the moment.

Also, you can open files with an app just by dragging them onto the dock icon. Maybe this is around in Vista or Win7 but it used to drive me nuts when I'd drag a file onto a quick launch icon and Windows would give me an explanation of what I was trying to do and why it wouldn't do it. Instead of just doing it. (The #1 Mac tip ever is to learn to do things by drag and drop, all the time and in all kinds of contexts, and unlearn the Windows habit of navigating through menus and whatnot. It's not always possible but it often is.)
posted by yesno at 8:52 PM on July 26, 2009

Does anyone know of a good alternative for Putty, on Mac?

PS: I know that I can use ssh using the built in Terminal on Mac. But I would like a way of storing the connections and login details of all the servers so that I don't have to enter them every time.
posted by WizKid at 8:57 PM on July 26, 2009

Autohiding the dock kills the most handy thing it provides to you that you're not going to get back with any tricks: badge counts.
posted by floam at 8:58 PM on July 26, 2009

> Autohiding the dock kills the most handy thing it provides to you that you're not going to get back with any tricks: badge counts.

When you command-tab to switch between applications the app icons display their badges with status or count info.

Personally I prefer it that way - I want to know how many unread messages I have, for example, but I don't want to be notified when a new one comes in. That's too distracting. But if you want notifications, most apps can be set to bounce their icons or make a noise when status changes.
posted by ardgedee at 9:07 PM on July 26, 2009

As far as application management, learn to love Expose and Spaces. Set them to easy hotkeys or hotcorners. It is a very different mindset than the Windows taskbar, but once you start using it for a while, it will feel just as natural and I actually prefer it now.
posted by sophist at 9:25 PM on July 26, 2009

I look at notification icons the same way ardgedee does: I command-tab, even if I'm not switching apps. they're way more apparent that way, too. They pop right up in my face, which is way faster than scanning the dock for something.

(P.S. for WizKid: here is a hardcore method for saving your SSH passwords/sessions in OS X's
posted by rokusan at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2009

Nthing the use of Quicksilver to bypass usual Dock functions. Never imagined how much it made some things even simpler. I autohide the Dock and have very few icons on it, since it's a lot easier to just input a few keys than have to navigate via the trackpad and check the desktop.
posted by FarOutFreak at 10:05 PM on July 26, 2009

Some alternatives if you want something like Quicksilver, but don't actually like Quicksilver

Google Quick Search Box

(both free)
posted by N2O1138 at 10:31 PM on July 26, 2009

WizKid: iTerm has bookmarks for connections, which takes the place of PuTTY's connection manager. Add the key exchange/storage part rokusan's "hardcore" method (the stuff in the iframe on that page), and you have pretty much a full auto-login PuTTY replacement.
posted by Pinback at 1:18 AM on July 27, 2009

I have the dock on the right (as proper for NeXTSTEP), hidden, and pinned to the lower-right corner instead of centered (keeping the trash in the corner, as is proper for the Mac OS).

You can use TinkerTool to easily modify hidden preferences such as non-centered dock placement.

I also have the top-right screen corner set to Exposé all windows, which makes it an easy mouse gesture (no precision mousing needed), much quicker than finding the correct function key and not wasting a mouse button assignment. (I use Kensignton's MouseWorks to change my button assignments depending on the app and I only have a three-button mouse; not enough room to include Exposé functions.)

I use Butler to make a custom menu for apps I don't want on the dock but still easily accessible and without all of the clutter in the applications folder. (I also use Butler's keyboard commands for iTunes.)
posted by D.C. at 2:46 AM on July 27, 2009

Apple OSX keyboard shortcuts. Nearly every common action in Finder has a keyboard shortcut. One could very nearly do without a mouse. IMO working without a mouse speeds up any UI.
posted by GPF at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2009

DataComet-Secure is a full-function terminal program. A tad old-fashioned, but quite capable.
posted by joeclark at 8:51 AM on July 27, 2009

I find the third-party launcher tips a bit baffling. Same for launching via Spotlight. How much time do they really save you?

ctrl-space (this is my hot key for quicksilver, and so familiar now that I can do it in an instant)
g - automatically pulls up the name of one of my clients, since that's the most recent (and most frequent) use of the letter g
right arrow key - selects his phone number
tab - moves to the "action" space in quicksilver
d - "Dial with ..." + Bluetooth

And, with that, I have just called my client on my cellphone, using my computer. The explanation makes it sound tedious but it seriously takes me about 1-2 seconds to do this.

I can copy any phone number I see, type ctrl-space, then . (to enter "Enter text mode") command-v to paste, then tab. "Dial with Skype" is automatically selected (you can change the order in which various actions are listed).

I agree for most people using Quicksilver just to open or switch apps is a bit of a waste. I still use Quicksilver to switch to open various apps but that's also because I'm an order of magnitude faster at typing than moving over to the mouse.

I hate putting more than most commonly used apps in the Dock. The advantage of putting only a few icons in the dock is you can get a sense memory of where they all are. I don't even really have to look at the dock to start an app, I just move the mouse to where I know it's going to be.

Even so, I still find myself trying to use QuickSilver and being a bit t-o'd if I realize I've accidently quit it. In those cases, I usually launch using Spotlight.

The thing is, if I put all of the apps that I use, daily, in the dock it would look ridiculous. And once they are all launched, the Dock is too full to be used practically. Then there are apps I use every so often that would have no place on the Dock, but I'm not about to waste time going to the finder and opening the apps folder (even if I can do so simply by typing command-A) just to get at the app I want. How much easier to just type in the first few letters?
posted by Deathalicious at 9:07 PM on July 27, 2009

I find the third-party launcher tips a bit baffling. Same for launching via Spotlight. How much time do they really save you?

Seriously? My guess would be at least 3/4 of the time to launch an app. Anything that precludes the use of a mouse is a good thing, and most apps on my machine can be launched with (command-space), one or two letters, and enter... all of which is faster than even beginning to work out where the mouse pointer is just now.
posted by pompomtom at 11:12 PM on July 27, 2009

Long overdue edit to my 7/26, 7:02pm reply about Spotlight. It should have read:

Just type Cmd-Space and start typing the application name...
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:23 AM on August 2, 2009

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